When we first leave the nest and move out on our own we typically seek independence, self-sufficiency and a lifestyle that embodies our beliefs and ideologies. It’s the American Dream. For Diane Collins, it took her 48 years to begin establishing such liberty.
“I’ve taken care of husbands, children, everything – cats, dogs,” Diane said. “This is very new to me to be all-alone. I have no husband, no children, no dogs, no cats, no baseball, no gymnastics, so I like it.”
Her dreams of working in radio were squandered in 1997 when her husband began abusing her. He kept her locked up inside the house and prevented her from having friends, from having a life on her own. She could not show emotion without suffering the consequences. “I couldn’t laugh, couldn’t cry. I was like a zombie.”
This is a thorough look at the prevalence of violence against women done by ICRW, the International Center for Research on Women. It explains how violence against women as an issue does not discriminate; it transcends cultural, economic and geographic boundaries, affecting millions of women around the world.
Please come support the millions of women around the world who suffer from domestic violence at my photography exhibit this Friday at Paper Crane Gallery in Bloomington, Indiana 8pm! All profits go to women’s shelter, Sol Naciente, in Buenos Aires, Argentina!
GRAND OPENING for Food Works - a local food market here in Bloomington, IN that is partnered with the women’s shelter, Middle Way House. It runs 8am-3pm and will have all of their culinary delights available for sampling, plus door prizes and a chance towin a power hedge trimmer! They are located at 318 S. Washington Street, in the historic coca-cola building. Come show your support!
According to the World Health Organization, one in three women suffers from some form of abuse, thus making violence against women one of the most pervasive problems in the world. In an attempt to bring violence against women to an end, organizations across the globe are working to help victims and their families escape violent situations. One such organization is Sol Naciente in Buenos Aires, Argentina, founded in 1998 by Lidia Hernandez.
This past fall, Courtney Michelle Miller had the chance to teach a photography workshop at Sol Naciente. For three weeks, she worked with a group of eight women, all of whom were victims of some form of abuse, ranging from domestic violence to drug addictions. They discussed basic techniques, such as the use of light and composition, and how they are used effectively to tell stories and portray realities.
The workshop in photography was about more than teaching basic techniques. It was a way to connect the women to experiences that they shared but that were often difficult to verbalize. The workshop participants saw how photography constitutes an alternative language for conveying human emotions. By telling or sometimes showing personal memories out loud, the students learned how photography exceeds boundaries and brings people together. Thus, the workshop created a space of support and trust, empowering them as individuals and also as members of a group.
Courtney is working on using photography as an alternative language for conveying human emotions and overcoming cultural and demographic boundaries to create an international network of women. Through these photography workshops with female victims of domestic violence in various regions, she hopes to provide them the opportunity to think, speak and learn without inhibition or fear. She wants to show how the mastery of basic photographic skills can bolster self-esteem among women attempting to exit oppressive circumstances. She is doing this in order to help women better understand their similarities and the way in which they are empowered as individuals and as members of a group through small-group workshops in photography.
In hopes of creating an international discourse about empowerment via photography among women, Courtney created a blog: http://creativevoices.tumblr.com. Please come view her work and that of her students at this eye opening exhibit.
Additional images and interviews available with artist and/or gallery director upon request.
Tomorrow, to properly bring our workshop to an end, I am accompanying the women on the ultimate self-esteem boosting visit: we are going to the Museum of Women for a private tour. The director, Graciela Tejero Coni, graciously offered to open the doors to my students and show them around. She thought it only made sense since they will soon be having their very own exhibit. I couldn’t agree more.
Yesterday I felt like I was revisiting my first day of class with the women at Sol. I was so nervous. It was finally time to see how the women did, how they applied their understandings of photography, and I was a wreck. Their pictures were ready. My time teaching was over. There was nothing more I could do but hope they listened and understood what I was trying to teach. On the way to pick them up, I thought about all the time we had spent together over the past three weeks and everything that happened.
In the beginning, we were all fairly timid and reserved. We did not know what was going to happen throughout the workshop, for it was new to us. I was new to teaching photography, especially in a foreign language. They were new to photography in general. They, like most people, viewed photography as something that preserves memories of people who are usually shown smiling in poses. They did not view it as a form of communication, as a way of connecting people by transcending cultural and geographic boundaries.
Slowly but surely as we delved deeper into the subject, they began to see photography in a new light. We discussed how as an art form, photography is most effective when it is natural. The most powerful and influential photographs are usually those that are not forced. They are moments captured at just the right time that tell a story anyone can understand. By focusing on human emotions, something we all share no matter how different our experiences are, photography speaks a universal language. I hoped to convey this effectively so that the women could understand, but it was difficult to do with the language barrier. The best I could do was show them. And so I did.
We looked at slideshows of photographs taken from various corners of the world, which put things into a global perspective. However, as my director Brenda said, sometimes it’s easier to understand and accept people who are obviously different from you based on physical aspects. It is more difficult to understand and accept people who are closer to you, people more like you. We tend to be harder on them. Believing there is truth to this, for I myself am more prone to judge people I know, I wanted to break down those barriers for the women. I wanted to show them that no matter how different their backgrounds are, they have a lot in common. Doing this, I believed, would create the space of trust and support that I hoped for.
In order to show them their similarities while simultaneously discussing photography, we discussed our favorite photographs, memories, and the best day we’d ever had. Many of their answers were interconnected or the same. This helped them see one another as equals, which Lorena even said during class one day. From the same level, which we eventually reached, we could start building that place of trust.
I could see them growing together, through disagreements and treaties, as the time passed. Each of them developed as individuals and as members of a group, providing something unique and special. Even for those who did not take photos, such as Blanca and Doris, it would not have been the same without them. Together, they have become a powerful group of women who are no longer afraid to speak of their dreams and the future, of hope and independence.
To make it even better, a great deal of their pictures turned out amazingly. Through their use of techniques like the use of light and the rule of thirds, the showed me that they not only listened, they understood. They applied everything I taught them and more. They exceeded all my expectations. I could not be more proud.
Today’s the big day. I go to pick up the pictures this afternoon. I’m anxious to see how they did! The book is already in the making too - so once I get them I’ll just have to add some for each woman, and then it will be finished!
In honor of Thanksgiving, a major event for my rather large family, I started off talking about the holiday and what it means to me. I explained to the women that in my family everyone comes together to celebrate the things we have to be grateful for in our lives. We forget, at least for this day, all the things bothering us and focus on the good. As our exercise, I had all the women tell me five different things for which they are thankful. The territory we covered was pretty much the same for the majority - things they had already mentioned were important to them like their kids. However, even through repeating these things, the exercise was a reminder for the women. It reminded them why they took the risks they did, left the dangerous situations they were in, and sought out a place like Sol for help. It reminded them of what they’re fighting for and gave them strength.
Their strength was visible in the unexpected, uncontrollable smiles that spread across their faces after someone mentioned their love for their kids; it was visible in the laughter that started with one and gradually infected the entire group; and it was visible in the growing comfort they had with sharing their stories, their feelings, their hopes with one another.
All of them, in addition to their kids, mentioned their appreciation for having a place like Sol. They said the support and love from the other women - who have come to replace the family they each lost when they left home - has helped them keep going. Each day, they said, is an accomplishment, a chance to further improve themselves and their lives, and they could not do it alone. Some of them also told me how grateful they are to have the opportunity to receive financial assistance from the government and obtain a job through the help of the social worker in Sol. Saying this out loud really seemed to give them confidence, especially after the others started cheering for them.
You could see their eyes glisten with hope as they talked about their dreams to keep moving forward and keep fighting for a better future. It was magical, as if the last few days, days that were all met by struggle and sadness, didn’t happen. Everyone was so happy, laughing and joking with one another, talking about the pictures they took and the ones I took of them. Their excitement for the project only increased when I told them about the positive responses I have been receiving from various women’s and art organizations, such as the Arts and Healing Network that just recently posted a link to the blog on their twitter site. The expressions on their faces and the goosebumps they showed me on their arms after I told them proved how empowering this experience has been.
Here are these women, all from poor provinces in Argentina, who have suffered from various kinds of abuse. Before this workshop, or more importantly this organization, these women had been convinced to believe that they had little value or ability to succeed alone. Now, three weeks later, they have people around the world listening to their stories, giving them attention and respect like they had never known before. Their network has become universal - a huge source of pride for them.
I feel so privileged to have been a part of this. Watching these women grow - their confidence and hope increasing with each day - has been the most incredible experience. I just wish it could last longer.
With each day, I can see us getting closer to reaching my goals, which in addition to learning basics about photography, entails winning the women’s trust and creating a space of support for one another. I see it in the way they interact with one another and the way they confide in me. Although I am still teaching about photography, it has been more under the surface since the women got their cameras. Now that some of them are already finished, waiting for the cameras to be developed, there is only so much more to cover without losing their focus. To maintain their interest, I address the lessons with more of a focus on their personal lives. We spend a lot of our time sharing our thoughts and feelings about certain things that are currently happening and things that have already passed. Their stories and problems were already being brought up at the end of every day, I figured I would work them into the class time. They are, after all, the reasons why we have been brought together.
Every day something good happens followed by something dark, grim, and difficult to process - like a reality check, reminding me that this workshop isn’t just going to be some fluffy experience. There are going to be obstacles. The obstacles that I’m facing, though, are ones I have never prepared to face. It’s already pretty overwhelming teaching photography in another language, but I have no idea how to address a situation that doesn’t seem to have an answer. Most of the problems these women face have solutions only they can find within themselves. Until they discover them, the only thing I can do to help is to be there, to listen. By listening to them and showing them that I care, gradually they become more comfortable and willing to share. This just reinforces my idea that having a workshop with women who have suffered from problems, such as drugs and violence, can help them raise their self-esteem by providing them the opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings, stories out loud. Thus, creating a space of trust and confidence where they can discover their capacities to do things independently.
Regardless of the challenges we faced today, which kept some of the students from fully participating - they were too preoccupied by one of the other women in the organization who had been causing some problems - we still managed to cover some territory. We started off by talking about the photos that the women took over the weekend. Some of them talked about their experiences and which photos were there favorites to take. For example, a group of women took their children to the beach and took lots of photos of their kids playing and of other families. They told me how much they enjoyed taking the photos and how excited they were to see how they turned out. I’m pretty excited myself, which is why the first thing I did after class today was take the three finished cameras to the store for them to be developed.
Also, after receiving permission from my adviser and one of the directors of Sol, I told the women about the Museum of Women’s interest in having an exhibition of our project with all their favorite photos and some of my own. Just seeing the expressions on their faces, the way they lit up with overwhelming joy, made me see the value in this project no matter how short-lived it is. It was one of those moments that makes you forget about the details, the days where you didn’t know if you were making a difference, worth it.
As I mentioned before, this workshop is about more than learning photography. It’s about empowering women who have faced some difficult, life-altering experiences, leaving them psychologically, mentally and emotionally wounded. It’s about showing them that they have the ability and the right to find their own voice and contribute to society. Telling the women about the visit to the museum and the possibility of having an exhibition, showed me that I may actually be having an impact on them. Further reinforcing this feeling, one of the women said this workshop has helped her find peace. “Photography is like a form of therapy for me. I can express all the things I have inside of me, and I can remember the good times I’ve had in my life.” Hearing this was incredible and encouraging. It made me believe that even in a few weeks, you can actually make a difference in someone’s life. They’ve certainly changed mine.
“Art is our one true global language. It knows no nation, it favors no race, and it acknowledges no class. It speaks to our need to reveal, heal, and transform. It transcends our ordinary lives and lets us imagine what is possible.”—Richard Kamler
Looks like we’re going to be paying a visit the the Museum of Women in Buenos Aires for our own little exhibit!!! The directors were really excited about the project, especially because the women are taking their own pictures to show theirs lives, their struggles. They told me they would even open their doors to our group for free to show them the space and tell them about how the museum supports females artists like them! I can’t wait to tell them next week when I go back. They’re going to be so excited. I feel like a proud mother watching her child get accepted into college!
With the cameras came the complications. I gave them away and have since faced problems with promoting equality and opportunity for all while simultaneously being just - I’ve learned the two don’t always go hand in hand. I had a new visitor to my class, someone who had never attended before, but happened to show up the same day that I distributed the cameras. Coincidence? I think not. My instinct told me it wouldn’t be fair to give her a camera. It wouldn’t be fair to me who bought the cameras with help from my program, nor would it be fair to the women who dedicated the last two weeks to attending and participating in my class.
How could I justify giving her a camera when she didn’t put in the time or effort? They are not gifts. They are part of the course, things the women who have been taking the class deserve.
As someone who does not like confrontation, I found it difficult to explain why I couldn’t give her a camera. Yet, it was necessary. So yesterday, and today when she showed up again, I had to explain why I could not give cameras to people who had not been taking my class. I didn’t have the resources, the number of cameras was limited, nor did I have the ability to “catch her up” with everything she’d missed in the past two weeks. She was clearly frustrated, but I held my ground. The others supported me with my decision, and said it was the right thing to do, but it was fun nonetheless.
Lorena, one of my students, took this opportunity to discuss how everyone in the room, no matter her origin or past experiences, is equal. We all have different problems, she said, some more than others, but we are all the same. We are all women.
Saying this showed me how important these group meetings can be. No matter the theme, they provide the opportunity for the women to share their stories, express their feelings, and understand the similarities and differences that stand between them. It is enriching to see their boundaries break down and their confidence in me and one another build. With each class, they are more comfortable and more open - sharing with me personal stories, explaining how it affected their life and how it was an experience they would like to forget or remember. They connect them to photography and how it can assist them as an escape. They tell me their ideas about photography, its importance, and how it can be utilized as a tool to connect one another and to show the beauty in their every day life. With each class, they are more empowered. And I have the opportunity to watch it happen firsthand.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, or the Treaty for the Rights of Women), was adopted by the United Nations in 1979, and is the most comprehensive international agreement on the basic human rights of women. The Treaty provides an international standard for protecting and promoting women’s human rights and is often referred to as a “Bill of Rights” for women. It is the only international instrument that comprehensively addresses women’s rights within political, civil, cultural, economic, and social life.
As of August, 2009, 185 countries had ratified CEDAW. The United States is among a small minority of countries that have not yet ratified CEDAW!!!! Demand that the US Senate ratify the law!!!
You can’t force someone to be passionate about something, nor can you teach them to have natural skills - these are things they must be born with, things innately built within them. You can, however, help them discover and develop these strengths and interests. This, I am coming to realize, is one of the most important things a teacher can do for his or her students. It is not about telling them what to believe. It is about helping them realize what they are capable of and showing them how to access it and apply it. You can do this by starting with the basic concepts and then gradually delving deeper into the topic, allowing each student to learn based on their individual interpretations. Expecting them all to understand the topic in the same manner is not realistic, nor is it beneficial for their personal growth.
“To the photojournalist, life is a series of split seconds. The path of history changes in the flash of an expression, an assassin’s bullet, a goal scored in overtime. Once captured, the most powerful of these images become icons that define an era and add immeasurable meaning to our lives. We honor photojournalists worldwide and their perseverance in the face of arrest, imprisonment, and even death.”—No Caption Needed